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Canes-Irish rivalry returns today

TIM KORTE The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 22, 2013 at 06:41 AM

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EL PASO, Texas -

After a 20-year lapse, it's time for another chapter in an ornery but historic rivalry that defined college football during the 1980s and became known as Catholics versus Convicts.

Don't expect the time off to cause any lack of intensity when the teams meet today in the Sun Bowl, even if players for the Fighting Irish (7-5) and Hurricanes (7-5) were wearing diapers or weren't even born the last time these teams faced off in October 1990.

"Whether they remember the Catholics versus Convicts is immaterial," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Thursday. "What our guys remember is the 2001 national championship for the University of Miami. What they remember are the great players that come from the University of Miami."

Miami's interim coach, Jeff Stoutland, said his players are "very much aware of the rivalry."

"They know they haven't played in 20 years," he said. "Both teams are very much aware. You can tell when they get together at different events. This is going to be a great matchup. This is going to be a great game to be at, to watch on TV."

El Paso is buzzing, with many fans in the heavily Roman Catholic city on the Mexican border excited to cheer for Notre Dame. The West Texas city has an estimated 80 percent Catholic population and the game sold out in 21 hours, the quickest in the bowl's 77-year history.

Of course, both programs have rich histories.

Notre Dame has won eight national titles and Miami five, and the schools were often slugging it out with national championship implications every time they faced off during the 1980s.

Irish linebacker Darius Fleming said his teammates are trying to focus on finishing the season with a victory, but he admitted he's been hearing from former players about how much the game means.

"I know a little about the history, about the rivalry back in the '70s and '80s," Fleming said. "I'm really looking forward to the game and beginning a new part of the rivalry."

Notre Dame's drive to the 1988 national title included a 31-30 win over the No. 1 Hurricanes, snapping Miami's 36-game regular-season winning streak. A year later, the Canes notched another national title after ending Notre Dame's school-record 23-game winning streak.

In the five most recent meetings, at least one team was ranked in the top 10.

HARRIS TO START: Stoutland announced Thursday that Jacory Harris will be Miami's starting quarterback, getting the nod while Stephen Morris nurses an ankle sprain.

He says Morris, who started UM's last four games but was hurt in Tuesday's practice, will be available if needed.

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